Prehistoric Michigan Copper

In September 2011, I gave the keynote address at the Seventh International Conference on Ancient America in Marquette, Michigan, organized by the Ancient Artifact Preservation Society and Ancient America magazine.

Marquette is in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, on the shores of Lake Superior. It is a beautiful area. I visited the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which features sandstone lake-shore cliffs, deserted beaches, sand dunes, streams, and forest. The day before the conference I hiked to the Lake Superior shore on some forest trails. When I reached the shore, there was a strong north wind, and big waves were breaking on the shore, big enough, it seemed, for surfing.

On the waterfront in Marquette there is a huge jetty extending out into the lake. It loads freighters with iron ore. These freighters sail out of the Great Lakes to the St. Lawrence River and then out to sea, bringing their cargo of iron ore to steel­-making plants all over the world. But thousands of years ago, people were mining another metal, copper, in the Upper Pe­ninsula and Isle Royale, an island in Lake Superior. Many of the researchers at the Marquette conference focus on this top­ic—ancient Michigan copper. My own topic is different—archaeological evidence for extreme human antiquity. But one of the things I like about going to conferences is meeting researchers who work on other topics in alternative archaeology and learning something about their work. I will now mention some of the things I learned. A lot of this information can also be found in a special issue (Copper Cultures of Upper Michigan and Wisconsin) of Ancient American magazine (vol. 5, no. 35, October 2000). In Marquette, I met Wayne May, publisher of Ancient American.

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan and nearby Isle Royale have big deposits of almost pure copper (up to 99 percent pure), making it unique in the world. Most other sources of copper have ore that contains a much smaller percentage of copper. In prehistoric times, miners dug tens of thousands of pits into the rock, averaging 20 feet wide and 30 feet deep. When did the mining start? David Hoffman said in Ancient American (vol. 5, no. 35, p.21): “In the 1950s, radiocarbon dat­ing of charcoal found at the bottom of several pits showed that they had been worked 3,800 years ago.” The miners used huge stone hammers to break out chunks of copper ore. They heated the ore with huge fires and then poured cold water onto the chunks of ore. The ore then broke up, releasing whatever pieces of pure copper it contained.

But sometimes, the miners found huge boulders of pure copper weighing thousands of pounds. Octave DuTemple wrote: “In several pits, copper boulders as large as 6,000 pounds were found already raised up on crib-work. What the min­ers intended for these enormous masses of metal once they got them to the surface, one may only imagine. At Isle Royale’s Minong Mine, another chunk,weighing about 5,000 pounds, was found still positioned on its elevating platform.” (Ancient American, vol. 5, no. 35, p. 11). I saw one of these boulders of copper at the Presque Isle Park in Michigan. It weighs 56,000 pounds.

Researchers have estimated that millions of tons of copper were extracted from the Upper Michigan copper mines. Some researchers believe that the amount of copper objects found by collectors and archaeologists in North America is considerably less than the total amount mined, suggesting that a good part of the copper was exported to other parts of the world. During the Bronze Age (from about 3300 BC to 1200 BC) there was considerable demand for copper (bronze is made of copper with some tin added). The sources of copper in Eurasia were being depleted and contained a low percent­age of copper. The abundant pure copper from Michigan, if known, would have attracted the interest of the Bronze Age civilizations of Europe, Africa, and Asia. The Bronze Age ended with the discovery of iron smelting in Eurasia (about 1200 BC), marking the beginning of the Iron Age. Interestingly, the end of the copper mining in Michigan coincided roughly with the end of the Bronze Age in Europe. Some researchers have suggested that the copper traders may have been from the Minoan culture of ancient Crete, an island in the eastern Mediterranean.

Is there any way to tell from where the copper used in Bronze Age objects found in Eurasia came? There are methods that scientists can use to source copper. These involve lead isotope analysis (copper usually contains some lead), copper isotope analysis, and ratios of trace minerals in a sample of copper. The trace mineral, copper isotope, or lead isotope sig­nature can be compared with the signatures of known sources of copper. If the signature in a copper sample matches that of a known source, there is a good chance that the copper comes from that source. These are not perfect methods, but they have been employed by archaeologists to determine the sources of copper. It may be possible to analyze the trace mineral, copper isotope, or lead isotope signatures of the copper in bronze or copper objects from Bronze Age Europe and see if they match the signatures of copper from Michigan.

At my lecture at the Marquette conference, I spoke mostly about cases of archaeological evidence for extreme human antiquity—evidence that humans like us have existed for longer periods of time than most scientists now think possible. To­day most scientists believe that humans like us first came into existence less than 200,000 years ago. So I presented many cases showing that humans like us have existed for far longer than 200,000 years, going back many millions of years. But because I knew that many of the people were interested in copper, I mentioned a couple of things related to copper.

One researcher, David Hoffman, wrote to me before the conference “Last year Gavin Menzies in London emailed me that he ‘has’ a copper ingot in Lothal, India that is 99 percent pure—Lake Superior. He knows Upper Michigan is the only source for such purity.” Lothal is a site in northwestern India, dating back to about 2400 BC. It was on a river near the coast. The site has a feature that archaeologists interpret as an enclosed harbor. It was an ancient trade center. I visited Lo­thal in 2008, and reported on my research in a previous column in Altantis Rising, now included in my latest book, The Forbidden Archeologist (“Was Lothal A Vedic City?”, pp. 215-219). Although it is not my main research topic, I do believe that thousands of years ago, ancient India was in contact with other parts of the world, including the Americas.

Some of the other researchers who gave talks in Marquette gave evidence for this. For example, Dr. John Smith, a re­tired physicist and engineer, author of the book Elephant Images in North America, pointed out that images of elephants found in stone temple carvings in Central and South America appear very much like images of the elephant-headed god Ganesh in ancient India. Dr. Carl Johannessen, a geographer who was professor at the University of Oregon in Eugene for 35 years, also spoke in Marquette about this topic. Furthermore, he spoke about evidence that North American plants, like corn, were present in India over a thousand years ago, long before Columbus, indicating trade contacts between ancient In­dia and the Americas.

In my talk at Marquette, I mentioned another case involving a copper object. In 1871, William E. Dubois, a researcher for the Smithsonian Institution, reported on a copper object found at Lawn Ridge, Illinois (Proceedings of the American Philo­sophical Society, 1871, vol. 12, no. 86, pp. 224-228; see also my book Forbidden Archeology, pp. 801-802). The object came from a well boring, at a depth of 135 feet. Dubois described the object as a copper “quasi-coin.” It was circular in shape and had engraved figures of humans and letters in an unknown script on both sides. Noting the uniform thickness of the object, Dubois suggested the object must have “passed through a rolling mill (1871, p.225). When I was doing research for my book Forbidden Archeology, my research assistant Stephen Bernath submitted the Lawn Ridge drilling record to the State Geological Survey of Illinois and asked the age of the deposits at the depth at which the object was found. A geologist of the Survey replied that the deposits formed during the Yarmouthian Interglacial Period “sometime between 200,000 and 400,000 years ago.”

In his report (1871, p. 224), Dubois included a statement from a letter by J.W. Moffit that other copper artifacts were found in nearby Whiteside County, Michigan. At a depth of 120 feet workmen discovered “a large copper ring or ferrule, similar to those used on ship spars at the present time . . . They also found something like a boat hook.” It seems to me that it is possible that these objects were made of copper from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Michael A. Cremo is the author, with Richard Thompson, of the underground classic, Forbidden Archeology: The Hid­den History of the Human Race. He has also written, Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin’s Theory (see


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